I am a woman majoring in electrical engineering about to enter my fourth year. My field is very male dominated, clearly demonstrated by the fact that I’m one of 8 women (out of about 60 people) in my class. I’m proud to say that my class is inclusive and I have never felt ostracized or belittled by my peers due to my female identity. Recently, however, I got a little preview of what thousands of women in the corporate world have to deal with.
I applied to many internships and one got back to me to schedule an in-person interview. I was ecstatic, any undergraduate student knows how big of an accomplishment just receiving an interview is. I studied so hard in the days leading up to the interview. I researched the company thoroughly and I reviewed material so I would be prepared to answer any technical questions thrown at me. The morning of the interview I was nervous, but I felt prepared and I was excited for this opportunity. When I got to the interview, I was led to the conference room where I was interviewed by the owner of the company. I am not someone who is skilled at interviews so I was content to find that everything was going smoothly and that my preparation had paid off. When he was done asking me questions, he gave me a tour of the office and showed me products that the company launched. To conclude the interview, he asked me to come into his office to talk specifics about the job. I walked in and he followed behind, closing the door. He made me a job offer and told me what he would pay me and my jaw dropped. For the first time in a long time, I felt proud of myself and thought that I had actually accomplished something. But before I could respond to him, the unexpected happened. He asked me to take off my mask so he could see my face. He then responded saying, “wow you’re so pretty,” followed by asking me personal questions such as, “How tall are you?” and “How old are you?”, and then he pulled my chair closer to him. Suddenly, my pride disappeared and I was paralyzed by fear because I had a premonition that something bad was about to happen. And I was right. He asked me to stand up, and then he turned me around, groped me, and tried to pull me into his lap with a sick, desperate look that has unfortunately been engrained in my mind. I instinctively yelled at him to stop, loud enough so someone in the office could hear and come help me. He let me go and I sat back down in the chair holding back tears while my mind was fogged with a variety of emotions. “There’s the catch…I KNEW that job offer was too good to be true,” I thought to myself. He tried to make amends for what he had just done by apologizing to me. But as my adrenaline levels decreased, I came back to my senses and I left the office as fast as I could.
The days that followed were some of the hardest ever. Not only was I traumatized because a powerful man in his 50s just violated and objectified me, but I also felt immense sorrow at the fact that he probably only made me that generous job offer because of how he viewed me as a sexual object and not because of my abilities and intellect. As someone who suffers from major impostor syndrome, I believed that getting this internship would help reassure me and show me that I do belong and I am smart enough to be an engineer, but ironically the interview experience did exactly the opposite.
It’s especially concerning that my experience is not unique. According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, 80% of the sexual harassment charges to the Equal Employment Opportunity Center between 2005 and 2015 were made by women (Institute of Women Policy Research, 2018). Additionally, a 2018 study by the Academy of Sciences cites high levels of harassment of women faculty and staff in academia in science, engineering, and medicine due to the male dominated nature of the fields (Academy of Sciences, 2018). These statistics, my anecdote, and the anecdotes of millions of women around the world prove the prevalence of a glass ceiling affecting women. With sexual harassment comes detrimental effects on a woman’s mental and physical health, reduced opportunities for career advancement, and forced job changes or unemployment, all results of the glass ceiling. I am so ashamed that this is the world we live in. I was raised on the idea that good things come to those who work hard, which has motivated me to maintain an exemplary work ethic. However, I am slowly realizing the unfortunate truth, which is that hard work and ambition are not always enough for the cruel world we live in, where the gender with which you identify with is enough to deprive you of opportunities. But unfortunately that is just one of the thousands of injustices prevalent in society today…